Continuing our idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy Hammer films and related items.
Kiss of the Vampire (aka Kiss of Evil; 1964): A minor effort directed by Don Sharp, in which the absence of any of the studio’s major stars is sorely felt, but You Know Who requested it because of its subject matter. Edward De Souza of Phantom of the Opera fame (or, more accurately, obscurity) is once again the stalwart hero, who is aided by a poor man’s Van Helsing (Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed’s father in Curse of the Werewolf) when his new bride (Jennifer Daniel) is menaced by a vampire cult, led by Noel Willman. The climactic destruction of the vampires by a swarm of bats (originally planned for Brides of Dracula) was butchered in the U.S. release prints.
The Old Dark House (1964): Talk about strange bedfellows: this remake of the 1932 James Whale classic teamed Hammer with producer-director William Castle. It’s a lame horror comedy starring Tom Poston, of all people, and scripted by Robert Dillon, whose credits include one each of John Frankenheimer’s best (French Connection II) and worst (99 and 44/100% Dead) movies. Hammer alumna Janette Scott (Paranoiac) joins comedic vets Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, and Peter Bull.
Fanatic (aka Die! Die! My Darling!; 1965): Richard Matheson wrote three scripts for Hammer, but only two were filmed. The censor put the kibosh on Night Creatures, which he adapted from his classic novel I Am Legend, so the studio sold the project to sometime distributor Robert Lippert (recycling the title as an alternate for Captain Clegg), who had it rewritten by another scenarist and filmed in Italy as The Last Man on Earth. Luckily, they gave Matheson another gig with this film, directed by Silvio Narizzano (best known for Georgy Girl). Based on Anne Blaisdell’s novel Nightmare, it’s highlighted by two standout performances, one by Stefanie Powers as a young American visiting her dead fiancée’s mother in England. In her last screen appearance, Tallulah Bankhead plays the mother, who ends up imprisoning Powers in her home and terrorizing her to show her the error of her ways; a very young Donald Sutherland appears as the retarded handyman.
Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966): Hammer’s output for 1965 also included two more Jimmy Sangster-scripted psycho-thrillers, Freddie Francis’s Hysteria and Seth Holt’s The Nanny (based on a novel by Evelyn Piper of Bunny Lake Is Missing fame), as well as a new version of H. Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novel She, starring Ursula Andress (Dr. No, Casino Royale ). But the big news came the following year when Christopher Lee finally returned to the part of Dracula. He has no lines (supposedly they were so bad he refused to utter them), and takes a while to appear, but it’s okay—Terence Fisher’s direction and the other characters are good enough to keep you busy. Stars stalwart Andrew Keir, Cary Grant sound-alike Francis Matthews, Hammer über-heroine Barbara Shelley in one of her best roles (as a vampiress), and Thorley Walters as Fritz.
The Plague of the Zombies (1966): Hammer continued to move in multiple directions in 1966, teaming up with Ray Harryhausen for the stop-motion remake One Million Years B.C. and reuniting the three leads of Dracula—Prince of Darkness (Lee, Matthews, and Shelley) for Sharp’s historical thriller Rasputin the Mad Monk. Meanwhile, John Gilling directed this lesser effort, a companion piece to his film The Reptile, also set in Cornwall. The highlight is the spooky dream sequence showing the zombies leaving their graves. Starring are Andre Morell; John Carson, later of Taste the Blood of Dracula and Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter; Jacqueline Pearce, who had the title role in The Reptile; Brook Williams, the doomed radio operator in Where Eagles Dare and the son of playwright Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall); and Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper.
The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own; 1966): Another of Hammer’s lesser efforts, although written by Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale. Joan Fontaine joins the mid-’60s menopausal horror set in this tale of witches (aw, you guessed) at an English school. My wife likes this, so I have a soft spot for it.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967): Hey, he must have been doing something right! But seriously, folks… Fisher directed, as he did all but the third film in the series, and Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein, who puts the soul of a wrongfully executed youth into the voluptuous body of a formerly scarred beauty played by August 1966 Playmate of the Month Susan Denberg (née Dietlinde Zechner), who also starred in “Mudd’s Women” on the original Star Trek.
Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth; 1967): Hammer was still mucking about in those musty tombs to little effect with Gilling’s The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), but luckily that same year saw the third and most elaborate of their trilogy featuring Professor Bernard Quatermass (ably played here by Keir, reunited with Dracula—Prince of Darkness co-star Shelley). Kneale himself wrote the script, with excellent direction by Roy Ward Baker and James (The Bridge on the River Kwai) Donald inexplicably top-billed. The story, which predates and prefigures 2001: A Space Odyssey, postulates an “invasion by proxy” similar to that in Village of the Damned (also starring Shelley—what’s going on here?), in which Martians not only altered an evolving mankind five million years ago (hence the American title), but also are responsible for mankind’s collective image of the devil (hence the British title). It’s marred only by sporadically cheesy special effects.
Journey to the Unknown (1968-69): I have only seen scattered episodes (eight of which were cobbled together into four faux telefilms) of this short-lived anthology series co-produced by Hammer and Twentieth Century-Fox, utilizing Hammer directors old and new, e.g., Don Chaffey, Alan Gibson, Peter Sasdy. Needless to say, the one I’m most familiar with is “Girl of My Dreams,” faithfully based by Robert Bloch—who also adapted his own “The Indian Spirit Guide”—and Michael J. Bird on Matheson’s story. Unscrupulous Michael Callan (Mysterious Island) uses his wife’s precognitive dreams to extort money from folks who will pony up to avert a disaster. “Miss Belle” and “The New People” were based on stories by Matheson’s late friend, Charles Beaumont.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968): Directed by Francis, who hastily replaced Fisher when the latter broke his leg in a traffic accident, this is one of the better installments in Hammer’s series, and reportedly one of their most successful films ever. But the scene where Dracula pulls the stake out of his chest because the hero didn’t say the requisite prayers while staking him offended purists like myself. With the vivacious Veronica Carlson, who also joined Cushing for a rousing round of musical brains in Fisher’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).
The Devil Rides Out (1968): See “Bradley’s Hundred #21-30” (or, better yet, Richard Matheson on Screen).
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970): Still going every which way at once, Hammer churned out two more Sangster psycho-thrillers, Baker’s The Anniversary (1968) and Gibson’s Crescendo (1970); the Andress-less sequel The Vengeance of She (1968); and a reputedly crappy SF film, Moon Zero Two (1969), none of which I’ve seen. I did see The Lost Continent, their other 1968 Dennis Wheatley adaptation (following the far superior The Devil Rides Out), about which the less said the better. But they also continued to keep their hand in with Dracula entries like this one. Ralph Bates conspires with three debauched, hypocritical Victorian swine to resurrect the Count through bizarre means. The double whammy of Bates and Sasdy, one of Hammer’s more overrated latter-day directors, is painful, but James Bernard’s score is memorable.
To be continued.